Born and raised in a family of strong women, Shameela Ismail always planned to follow in their footsteps. As a bureaucrat’s daughter, the family moved often, which impacted her education. To give her more stability, her parents decided she’d live with her grandparents, who had just launched Lahore’s first NGO, Helping Hand Society, an organization that soon became a symbol of hope for women in need. It is these early experiences that shaped Shameela’s own thinking and inspired her to give back to society.
In spending those formative years with her grandparents, Shameela quickly became aware of the lack of suitable employment options for women. After a series of personal career highs and lows, Shameela launched GharPhar (at home), a female-led tech startup that provides home beauty services to women.
Launched in September 2016, the company is a one-stop beauty solution that provides high-quality, timely, professional and affordable beauty services to women in the comfort of their homes. The startup’s biggest differentiator is its focus on social impact and the opportunities offered to semi-skilled women from economically marginalised backgrounds.
GharPhar’s roots go back to Shameela’s previous business venture, a beauty salon called ‘Shelu’s Salon’. This experience allowed her to understand intimately the needs and dynamics of the beauty industry and to gain perspective on the complexities beauty practitioners face. “With an average income of a beautician in Pakistan ranging between US$ 64-80 a month, it was important to think out of the box,” says the entrepreneur.
“For us GharPar is synonymous with comfort, convenience and a whole lot of love,” Shameela adds.
Winning over investors
Determining the viability of GharPhar’s business model has been Shameela’s number one challenge. “Being a female-led business for women and with an element of social impact is a challenging proposition for investors that want to see scale and profitability,” she says.
It was the optimism that Shameela and her team had that opened investors’ eyes to GharPhar’s larger potential and staying power. Facebook and Instagram have also played a part in the startup’s success. “In Pakistan, the internet is synonymous with Facebook, which is why it was the right tool for us to create a brand identity to acquire customers,” says Shameela. The results, she notes, have exceeded expectations, with all of the company’s 12,000 customers coming through Facebook ads.
Next on Shameela’s agenda is the introduction of an entirely new vertical of male at-home beauty services and the launch of the company’s first app.
Shameela’s other wish is to see a stronger startup community in Pakistan with more collaboration. “Sure, we meet at gatherings and networking sessions, but the community suffers from a trust deficit, so as a result there’s very little knowledge sharing.”
For aspiring entrepreneurs, Shameela has a few pieces of advice: immerse yourself and do something rather than nothing; innovate continuously; never flat out refuse an idea; and identify mentors to seek guidance.
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